The logs show that a cargo plane belonging to the Syrian Air Force made eight round trips between Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport and Damascus over three months this summer
According to newly released flight logs, Russia has been helping out embattled Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad by literally sending him planeloads of cash.
The logs, obtained by the investigative journalism body ProPublica, show that an Ilyushin 76 cargo plane belonging to the Syrian Air Force made eight round trips between Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport and Damascus over three months this summer, each time carrying a stated cargo of 30 tonnes of banknotes.
This would suggest that a total of 240 tonnes of currency, equivalent to roughly 240m notes, made its way from Russia to Syria over the summer.
“There is a practical need for Syrian pounds to stay in circulation so that the government can keep paying the soldiers and the bureaucracy,” says David Butter, a Middle East expert at Chatham House. “If the government is simply printing money in Russia and flying it to Damascus, then the potential for hyperinflation is very strong.”
It is unclear whether all the notes aboard the planes were newly minted Syrian currency, or whether there was also some aid in the form of “hard” currency. As Syria has been engulfed in violence over the past year and a half, the government has struggled to balance the budget and allay fears of massive inflation. Syrian officials have played down rumours that the country is simply printing money that it cannot afford to, but with a black hole in the budget, this seems the most likely explanation for the flights from Russia.
“Tax collection is down and oil revenues are perhaps only 10 per cent of what they were before the conflict started,” says Mr Butter. “Even by official government figures, they are running a huge deficit.” The Syrian pound has slid dramatically this month, amid rumours that the Central Bank is running low on hard currency, causing a rush by Syrians to change their money into dollars and gold, and inflation has hit around 38 per cent.